Company finalizes buyout offer

Guild retains retirement planner to help members make an informed decision

After several weeks of talks with the Guild, News management has settled on a buyout package that will seek the voluntary retirement of 23 employees by offering improved pension benefits.

Union and company leaders concluded discussions Friday that resulted in a package that is largely along the lines of what’s been previously reported, with a couple of significant improvements.

Here are the key components:

  • Employees with at least five years of experience will be eligible to add 10 years of pension credits they can apply to their age and/or years of service. The maximum years of credited service would increase from 30 to 45 years and employees who already have more than 30 years of service credits would be able to apply those extra years towards their pension calculations. The $40,000 cap on annual benefits would remain.
  • The offer will be open from March 22 to April 26, and employees will be required to leave by April 30.
  • The number of buyouts will be capped in departments as follows: nine district managers; eight in the newsroom; three in Classified Advertising; two in Accounting; one in Inside Circulation. If there are more interested employees apply than available slots, priority goes to those with the most seniority.
  • If the pension buyout offer does not solicit enough interest, the company will offer a second buyout of cash equal to 18 months of base pay and, where applicable, merit pay. That offer would be extended from April 26 to May 10. Again, seniority will be the determining factor if applicants outnumber openings.
  • If at least nine district managers apply for the buyout, The News will offer them the option of returning to work as permanent, part-time DMs. The wage rate would be $18.54 an hour and they would be in line for what, in most cases, would be 12 hours of work a week. The News also agreed to waive the six-month probationary period for new employees – which the returning DMs would be, technically. If fewer than nine DMs agree to take the buyout, they could be in line for part-time employment, but it would be at the call of management, with no long-term job security and no assurance on the number of hours worked.
  • Management will consider offering part-time employment to newsroom employees who take the buyout. These positions would not have permanent status and the hours could fluctuate. Management has agreed to let prospective candidates know before they make a retirement decision as to whether it would be willing to bring them back on a part-time basis.

Management has a contractual right to offer buyouts without negotiating the details with the Guild. The two sides met four times in recent weeks to discuss ways of making the package attractive to a maximum number of employees.

“While we would prefer if the company was not seeking to cut jobs, I’ve got to give management credit for listening to the Guild’s suggestions on how to structure an attractive package,” said Jim Heaney, who headed up the union team that met with management. “This is the most-attractive buyout offer The News has offered in a long time and substantially better than what management originally had in mind. For employees who have been waiting for a better offer, it has arrived.”

The Guild has retained the financial consulting and retirement planning firm headed by Richard Schroeder, a former Guild president who manages the union’s investments. Guild members weighing the pros and cons of taking the buyout are encouraged to make an appointment with him or one of his associates to discuss many factors that should be considered, including pension, Social Security, 401K, unemployment insurance, health insurance, Medicare, etc.

The Guild will circulate a flier later this week with more details, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

The company is seeking to cut $5.7 million in expenses, and the buyouts offered to Guild members would account for nearly $1.1 million of that. Management is seeking to cuts in the face of declining profitability.